Stakeholder engagement and management is one of the essential Project Management disciplines. But it is often taught in a simplistic manner. The standard ‘four-box’ approach to deriving stakeholder engagement strategies can easily leave newer project managers believing there are just four basic strategies they can use.
But this is far from the truth. In fact, there are many stakeholder engagement strategies you can choose from. And you can apply each of these with a wide range of tactics and approaches to suit your situation.
But, if you don’t know the full range of strategies, you’ll find yourself responding in a way that is too coarse-grained. So, in this article, we’ll delve deeply into the full range of Stakeholder Engagement Strategies.
There are two things we need to cover before we look at our set of stakeholder engagement strategies. These will help any less-experienced project managers to catch-up. Particularly those who are not as familiar with the subject as others.
If you read the opening paragraphs and were not completely sure what we meant by:
…then read on. If you know what these two mean, then do jump to the next big heading.
Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
‘… and what is the difference?’ we could ask, too.
Let’s start with a short video.
So, stakeholders are:
Anyone with an interest in your project – whether affected by its outcome or process, or with an ability to affect its outcome or process.Decode the Jargon of Project Management:, by Dr Mike Clayton.
Therefore, ‘stakeholder engagement’ is the process of engaging with stakeholders. And ‘stakeholder management’ is an older term for the same thing, which is still used but is now widely deprecated.
In the video, I show a simple diagram of the five-step stakeholder engagement process. To make it easier for you to review it, here it is again.
As the video says, Stakeholder Engagement is a more respectful – and more modern – term for what we used to call Stakeholder Management. And the PMI is following along too. It has partially adopted the term in its latest version, the 6th Edition, of its Project Management Body of Knowledge: the PMBoK.
But, if a I have a criticism, it is that it has still retained the label Project Stakeholder Management for the overall Knowledge Area. And, I cannot help thinking that there is a simple (and foolish) reason for this. Every other knowledge area is titled as Project ‘this’ Management or Project ‘that’ Management. So, it feels to me like they put the pattern above good sense. But that’s just my opinion.
That said, we are waiting for the 7th edition of PMI’s PMBOK Guide to see how far they continue with the term Stakeholder Management (which they used in the 6th edition). Or will they come up-to-date and use the term ‘stakeholder engagement’ exclusively?
A term that I do use is ‘stakeholder engagement management’. This is the management of the stakeholder engagement process.
Now we’ve reviewed the meaning of stakeholder engagement and stakeholder management, let’s take a look at the other thing I mentioned in my opening paragraph…
There are lots of variants on this. But, the standard approach to charting stakeholders is to plot them on two axes:
Rating each of these as either ‘high’ or ‘low’ yields the most commonly used stakeholder analysis chart.
A you can see, this analysis yields four stakeholder engagement strategies:
This gives us the four strategies of:
…but the effect is still the same. A poverty of strategies.
And the reason why these charts give us so few strategic options is simple. It is because they should never be used as your only stakeholder analysis tool. Indeed, they are solely designed as a triage process – a quick sorting to give you prioritization and an early indication of the ‘kind of strategy’ you’ll need.
Of course, for small projects, I’ll agree that this might be enough. But otherwise, you’ll need to go further. And that’s why I want to introduce you to a far larger set of strategies. This will really power-up your project stakeholder engagement.
Here’s a thought for you:
The secret to a good strategy – in any context – is to ask the right questions.
And the first question to ask, when you want to choose your stakeholder engagement strategy, is:
‘What is the appropriate posture?’
You have a spectrum of options that range from:
Let’s take a look at what this looks like.
The supportive end of this spectrum of stakeholder engagement strategies will focus on the stakeholder’s own needs and preferences. I’ll illustrate with three gradations. And, we’ll start with the most accommodating of their needs.
This is an even-handed strategy where you balance your needs against those of your stakeholder.
At this end of the spectrum, we have stakeholder engagement strategies that favor your project. I’ll illustrate these with three examples that move from a gentle pushing forward of your preferred position, to the most adversarial advocacy and assertion of your preferences.
The second question you need to ask, to determine your stakeholder engagement strategy is:
‘To what extent do we wish to engage with this stakeholder?’
Here, the answers will range from:
We can illustrate the spectrum here with these seven levels:
If we put together the two dimensions of:
…we get the full set of stakeholder engagement strategies.
This leads to a simple diagram. The diagram illustrates this with labels for each level. However, you will understand this best by focusing on the two spectra. This way, you’ll be able to design your strategic stakeholder engagement strategy from an understanding of where you are on each axis.
As always, we’d love to hear from you. So, please share your experiences, your ideas, and your questions. If you put your comments below and we’ll respond to any contributions you make.
Why not treat yourself? Buy a copy of Engaging Stakeholders on Projects: How to harness people power.
Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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